Western Washington student readmitted following sexual assault conviction

VIDEO: WWU sexual assault controversy

A Western Washington University senior -- who had been banned from the campus following a felony rape charge against a fellow student -- has been readmitted to the school, according to WWU staff.

The readmitted student pleaded to a lesser charge of assault with sexual motivation in 2015 and was sentenced to a month in the Whatcom County Jail. The survivor of the assault had graduated and was no longer on campus, according to school officials.

Students learned about the school administration's decision in a headline published in the school newspaper. Some WWU students told KIRO-7 they felt betrayal and anger for not being informed about the decision by administrators.

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"When I read about it, it was terrifying," said WWU junior Alicia Newman. "I feel the trust has been violated to such an extent time after time that I now feel scared to be on this campus."

WWU had been under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights since April of 2015, after a sexual assault survivor filed a Title IX complaint alleging school administrators made it difficult to report the crime, and didn't take the report seriously.

Students turned to Facebook, calling for email writing campaigns and protests to call attention to a decision they call reckless.

"The university is completely willing to allow folks with a history of violence back on this campus," said a junior student who asked not to be identified. "It feels like a betrayal from a university that claims to have a quote-unquote survivor centered process, and it's really indicative of the lack of justice the students are receiving."

WWU's Director of Office of Communications, Paul Cocke, put the school's perspective in a written statement to KIRO-7:

"When any student re-enrolls at Western after very serious conduct cases, there is a deliberate re-entry process that both assesses what has occurred during the student’s absence, such as during suspension, and evidence of their ability to safely re-enter the campus community.

The WWU Dean of Students office is responsible to first assess the community safety issue, which is the top priority, and for the individual to be able to be successful and avoid repeat offenses.

If a person is perceived to pose a potential threat to campus or any individual member of the university then that student will not be re-admitted to the University. The safety of Western’s campus is our top priority."

Cocke said the readmitted student is not a registered sex offender and administrators were not obligated to inform the student body about the re-enrolled student.

"Sometimes an individual court outcome may be reduced below a felony and thus not require any registration as a sex offender - which involves varying degrees of community notification. In such instances there would not be a basis for the university to further sanction such an individual, should they later return as a student," Cocke wrote.

Student government leaders like Wayne Rocque, V.P. of WWU's Student Life, said school leaders should have let everyone know about readmitting the student.

"Given the gravity of the situation, I'm hoping the university could have employed more transparent ways to address these concerns with the student body, prior to making this decision," Rocque said.